Sunday, March 22, 2015

Drop Dead Healthy

Motivation for reading:

I read A.J. Jacobs book Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfectionin search of ideas and inspiration for my 2015 Challenge to Live Healthy on a Budget.

What is Drop Dead Healthy about?
While on vacation in the Caribbean Jacobs is hospitalized for tropical pneumonia.  After his wife tells him she doesn’t want to be a widow at 45, he decides it’s time to get healthy. He conjures up a challenge for himself to become the healthiest man in the world.  This book chronicles his challenge. Each month he focuses on a different area of his body performing research, consulting experts and implementing what he learns.

My Thoughts:
Initially, I enjoyed Jacob’s escapades to get healthy, but the more I read the more his challenge seemed like a farce. Instead of teaching us to become healthier the book felt like a gimmick. Even Jacobs tired of the variety; after trying several different fitness classes he writes:
It is getting numbing instead of inspiring.  It almost always boils down to moving your arms and legs in a room of mirrors. (Pg. 250)
He then decides he needs an exercise goal and begins training for a triathlon. He doesn’t chronicle his training (which may have been interesting), but instead continues writing about different areas of his body.

I did enjoy his visit to Whole foods with Marion Nestle author of What to Eat;particularly his discussion with Nestle about super foods and antioxidants.  He writes, "We tend to believe the food with the antioxidants is the best.  It makes us overlook all the other non-super foods such as apples and oranges." Here is what Nestle says about blueberries:
The blueberry obsession can be traced, in part, to the clever marketing efforts of the Maine wild blueberry growers.  A decade ago, the Maine blueberry industry was in trouble.  In years past, blueberry promoters had tried several strategies: They attempted to market blueberries as candy.  Even odder, they ran a campaign suggesting blueberries as a condiment to put on hamburgers.  Nothing worked.  But when a Tufts study said that wild blueberries had a high antioxidant rating, they ran with it, and blueberries have become the prototypical health food. (Pg. 97)

In the end, Jacobs does complete a triathlon and according to his stats is healthier.  He includes a list of the best tips and advice he received in the appendix. This is helpful since much of the advice he writes about is confusing and contradictory.  

Bottom Line:
I was looking for a more serious take on this topic, but did find the book to be entertaining and not a complete waste of my time. If you enjoy experimental journalism and or humorous books you may like this one, if not skip the book and read the appendix.

Have you read Drop Dead Healthy?  If so what were your thoughts? What books would you recommend for a live healthy challenge?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Is Maria Kang a Healthy Role Model?

This month I read Maria Kang’s book The No More Excuses Diet: 3 Days to Bust Any Excuse, 3 Weeks to Easy New Eating Habits, 3 Months to Total Transformation for the From Left to Write Book Club. The book wasn’t great, but it did help me recognize my own excuses and motivate me to get my healthy living challenge back on track Most of Kang's diet and fitness advice isn't new. You can read the first chapter where she introduces the majority of her tips here. 

Prior to reading the book I hadn’t heard of Maria Kang or the controversy she created when she posted the following photo to her Facebook page:


The photo went viral and Kang was vilified by critics for “fat shaming.”
At first, I was irritated by her photo, but the more I thought about it I became angry.   If you look into Kang's background you learn she is a former fitness competitor and personal trainer making it easier for her to get back into shape after having children. Also, she admits to struggling with bulimia.  I can't help but wonder if she isn't still obsessed with compulsive exercise and being thin.  I don't think she is a healthy role model and do think the air-brushed photo above is fat shaming.
I would have been more likely to consider Kang a healthy role model if she would have used the following more natural photo: 
As for healthy role models, I prefer Eliz Greene of Embrace Your Heart whom I've written about before.
Eliz was seven-months pregnant with twins when she suffered a massive heart attack. Her life changed — not only did she survive a ten-minute cardiac arrest, the cesarean delivery of her daughters and open-heart surgery, all on the same day — she gained new perspective and passion for life. Eliz developed strategies to fit activity and healthy habits into her life. She lost the more than eighty pounds she gained while pregnant and has kept it off for more than a decade.
I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Greene a few years ago.  She is this teeny tiny women who danced across the stage persuading her audience to exercise in ten minute increments when we were unable to fit a 30 minute workout into our schedule. Many women can't make it to the gym 5 to 6 times a week, but we can dance around the kitchen while doing the dishes.
Do you think Maria Kang is a healthy role model?  If not who is your healthy role model?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

February Healthy Living Recap – Excuses Edition

While January was all about work, February was all about transitions; one of my employees resigned, my husband is forced to change his diet – he has acid reflux, we are undergoing a major remodeling project which put our home in a state of flux and my beloved dog Buck was diagnosed with inoperable lymphoma. Once again, my live healthy on a budget challenge was not the major focus of my life. 

Here is my “February Healthy Living Challenge” recap:

Strength and physical fitness:
Strengthening my core is one of the main goals of my healthy living challenge – strong back and stomach muscles help prevent injuries. I am using the walking pushup as the exercise to measure my core strength progress. On January 1st I was able to do seven walking pushups. On February 28th, I managed ten, but just barely. During February, I attended eight fitness classes and went on three walks. My goal is to attend three fitness classes a week, but with my employee leaving and the cold February Wisconsin temperatures I worked long hours or just went home foregoing my classes. I did not meet this goal.

Weigh-in and healthy eating:
I lost 1.5 pounds in February. I had gained 1.5 pounds in January, so my weight is now the same as it was on January 1st. With the change to a low-fat, bland diet for my husband’s acid reflux I honestly thought I would lose more weight. With all the added stress this month, I did succumb to several lunch room treats; there were treats for Valentine’s Day, Fat Tuesday, birthday’s, I hate Monday’s, thank goodness it’s Friday and going away treats for my employee.

Grocery Budget:
During February I set a monthly grocery budget of $500 for my husband and me. In January we spent $605. February came in at $471. I still think we can do better than this. We did stock-up on lean meats that were on sale, but paid full-price for some fresh produce. Budget suggestions from readers include buy frozen fruits and vegetables, eat cabbage salad in winter, make your own muffins for snacks, buy in-season, use what you have, grow your own, buy store brands, eat less meat and more mushrooms. I also learned it is cheaper to buy expensive grains, rice and nuts from your grocer’s bulk bins rather than individual packages and that nuts keep longer if you store them in the freezer.

Mental-Well Being:
Considering all that happened in February, I did pretty well maintaining my mental well-being. I felt confident and strong whereas in year’s past I’d sink into a slump during February. A highlight of the month was attending the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s performance of The Good People. I am sure attending this performance will make my list of top-ten highlights of 2015.

Overall Thoughts on February:
Initially I was going to sum up February by talking about how it was a transition month, with all the changes that are occurring I didn’t have time to work on my health challenge, I was tired, frustrated, lacked energy and hopefully will do better next month. Then I started reading Maria Kang’s book The No More Excuses Diet: 3 Days to Bust Any Excuse, 3 Weeks to Easy New Eating Habits, 3 Months to Total Transformation she immediately points out these are excuses
Excuses validate choices. They let us off the hook and give us permission to fail. (Introduction Pg. IX)
Kang recommends creating a meaningful goal. She writes if you are unmotivated to work out or eat healthy perhaps you haven’t landed on the deep, desirable reasons this journey is important to you.

Last week, I had an appointment with a new primary physician. We went over my family history and all of my mom’s health issues. This reinforced my initial reason for creating a healthy living challenge – I hope to be more like my maternal grandmother who lived to be 95 and was healthy to the end than other less healthy members of my family.

The number one health recommendation from my doctor is for me to eat foods high in calcium. My mom has severe osteoporosis. She suggests I remain on the birth-control pill until I am in menopause and to eat foods high in calcium at every meal. Unfortunately, she claims cheese is not a high calcium food. She is not found of calcium supplements because too much calcium could cause Hypercalcemia and may lead to atherosclerosis. With all of the heart disease in my family history she suggests I fulfill my calcium requirement with food. She also suggests I take a vitamin D supplement and a baby aspirin every day. As to working out, she is happy with my three fitness classes a week and was even okay with me not meeting this goal in February.

Health Goals for March:
This month I’m keeping it simple - eat food high in calcium with every meal and attend 3 fitness classes each week. I’m looking forward to trying Maria Kang’s fruit smoothie: ½ cup strawberries, ½ cup blueberries, ½ banana, handful of spinach and 1 cup almond milk. (Both spinach and almond milk are good sources of calcium.)

This post was inspired by The No More Excuses Diet by Maria Kang who shares her no excuses philosophy that motivated her to become more fit. Join From Left to Write on March 12th as we discuss The No More Excuses Diet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

How did you live healthy during February? What are your health goals for March?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Do You Feel Successful?

One of my employees resigned this month.  As we were going over her exit paperwork she blurted out, “I never felt successful here.” I was flabbergasted, “What do you mean you WEREN’T SUCCESSFUL HERE?” She had been an exemplary employee and extremely successful. 

“I couldn’t keep up with the paperwork. I’d go home every night and worry about the piles of un-posted invoices. I never felt successful.”
This employee had worked at our company for twelve years as an Accounts Payable Associate. She managed the payables for eight of our stores. Invoices came in daily.  Having ALL of the invoices posted at any one time was an unattainable goal.  She would never be 100% caught up. 

Several times over the last couple of years, she’s complained about her piles of unfinished paperwork and I’ve always discredited her concerns especially when she suggested hiring additional staff.  As long as she had the previous month’s invoices posted (and she always did) by the time I closed that month’s financial statements I considered her keeping up.  Instead I would recommend more efficient ways she could perform her job.
A few weeks ago, just the two of us were in on a Saturday, she took this as an opportunity to discuss her workload and our company’s plans to build a new store this year.  This would mean even more work for my employee.  I again discussed the changes she needs to make in her position to take advantage of technology and become more efficient. I offered to help her. She still uses an outdated version of our accounting software that does not support some of the new features required for her job. She asked if we would consider hiring additional staff.  I again told her no.

The following Monday she resigned. She plans on working for her son at his business.
This employee hates change with a passion and pushes back when our company requires her to do so, but this does not mean she wasn’t successful.  As she was about to leave for good I asked her to come into my office, but was interrupted by our company’s President so I included him in my conversation.  I told him she hadn’t felt successful at our company and the two of us rattled off all the reasons why she was a success.  I could count on one hand the mistakes she had made.  She never voided checks while her predecessor would hand my boss several voided checks daily. We received more returned checks mailed to the wrong vendor in one day under her predecessor than during the entire 12 years this employee worked at our company. Our President chimed in with how she got along with everyone (he feels this is more important than her accuracy).  He thanked her for handling all of those irate payable vendors during the recession with such diplomacy and pleasantness.  He then told her if she ever decided she wanted to come back he would find a spot for her. 

I hope she left feeling like a success. 
Personally, I currently feel more successful than I have in the past.  My husband’s semi-retirement at the end of last year has freed-up my time so I can devote more of it to work without worrying about cleaning and errands.  As much as I complained about the work conference I attended last month, I returned with new ideas and new energy. I’m also happy with my current blog challenge to live healthy on a budget.  I had been floundering in search of a niche that feels like my purpose and think this may be it.

How about you?  Do you feel successful? Why or why not?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

5 Things I Learned From my Mother’s Audiologist

I recently accompanied my mom on her appointment with an audiologist to be fitted for new hearing aids.  My siblings and I have had many discussions as to which doctor appointments require one of us to attend and which do not.   Normally, accompaniment to an audiologist appointment wouldn’t be a necessity, but since my mom was to make a substantial prepayment on new hearing aids I decided to tag along.  I am so glad I did.  Here a few of the things I learned:

My mom can’t hear:
The audiologist had my mom remove her current hearing aids so she could test and clean them.  After she left the room, I began talking to my mom and quickly realized she was unable to hear a word I said.  She didn’t even acknowledge I was speaking. It was eye-opening to witness how severe my mom’s hearing loss actually is.

The cost of hearing aids are not covered by Medicare:
My mom has one year of medical benefits remaining on her retiree medical plan. This policy will contribute $2,000 towards the purchase of a pair of hearing aids. Her remaining out- of- pocket cost will be $1,900. Since hearing aids are not covered by Medicare, we decided she should purchase the hearing aids now.  

Hearing aid life expectancy is 5 to 7 years:
My mom’s current hearing aids are 7 years old.  One of them is cracked (she told me later she had tried to clean wax out of it with a needle and tweezers).  Also, hearing aid technologies have become quite sophisticated, they are now considered mini-computers.  With her advanced hearing loss she needs to take advantage of new technologies.

The bricks in hearing aid drying boxes need to be replaced every two-three months:
This was completely new to me:  My mom currently stores her hearing aids in a drying box when she’s not wearing them.  This box is equipped with drying bricks that absorb moisture from the interior of her hearing aids prolonging their life. The bricks eventually become saturated with moisture and need to be replaced – typically every two to three months.  My mom stopped replacing these bricks a couple of years ago in an effort to cut expenses.   

Hearing aids are just that – an aid:
According to the audiologist, the biggest misconceptions family members have when getting their loved one hearing aids is that they will restore hearing to normal levels or completely correct hearing loss.  Hearing aids are an AID to assist patients with hearing; hearing will not be 100% normal with hearing aids.  

There are additional devices included with the new hearing aids to assist with hearing.  One of my mom’s biggest complaints is not being able to hear during large family gatherings.  Her new Phonak Naida Q50 hearing aids come with a remote mic.  She can hand this mic, which is wirelessly connected to her hearing aids, to a person who is talking or place it in the center of the table.  She’s tried both, but her favorite use for the mic is to set it in front of her TV speakers so she no longer has to blast her TV.  In the past, she has received complaints from neighbors when she blares her TV after 9:00 p.m.  
In conclusion:

My mom is happy with her new hearing aids and her hearing has improved substantially.  Even my siblings noticed she doesn’t ask them to repeat themselves as often.  The cleaning system is easier- she no longer has to wipe off excess wax every morning. And it’s cheaper – her new drying box doesn’t require bricks. Getting the proper fit wasn’t easy. The mold in one of her hearing aids needed to be remade twice before it felt comfortable. Her only current complaint is a slight ringing tone in one of her ears.

As to what doctor’s appointments a family member should accompany her on, it appears all of them.  I find it interesting she choose not to replace the dryer bricks in an effort to cut costs.  A quick Google search indicates this decision saved her $40-60 a year.  If I would have known I'd have gladly purchased these for her.  I wonder what other cost-saving decisions she has made.
Do you accompany your parents on doctor appointments? If so, have you been surprised by something you have learned?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How Much Should a Couple Spend on Groceries Each Month?

photo credit: Farmers' market haul, 2008-11-29 via photopin (license)

One of the first comments a friend made after beginning the diet her doctor recommended (eat predominantly lean proteins, fruits and vegetables to lose weight) was that she was spending too much money on groceries.  She complained of wasting food. Her husband and son were refusing to eat vegetables with every meal, she was growing tired of salads and many of the expensive fruits she was purchasing were spoiling before she had a chance to eat them.  

I couldn’t help but think of her as I began my live healthy on a budget challenge, was my healthier diet going to cost more? I hadn’t tracked my monthly grocery spending in the past, but estimate I spent an average of $600 a month on groceries for my husband and me.  Note: we rarely eat out and always pack a lunch for work. Could I spend less than that and still eat healthy?

To determine the average monthly food expenditures for a couple I consulted the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average for December 2014.  The monthly low-cost plan for a family of 2 aged 51 – 70 was $478.50.  I used this information to set a monthly grocery spending budget of $500 or under.

Unfortunately in January we spent $605.  I didn’t keep track of what we bought, but know the $605 included coffee which my husband insists belongs in the grocery budget. Also, in January he determined the back and chest soreness he was experiencing was due to acid reflux. After researching an acid reflux friendly diet he purchased pre-packaged cut-up vegetables at full price and other items that wouldn’t aggravate his already enflamed esophagus.  In addition, some of the items purchased earlier in the month (coffee, tomato-based products and citrus) he was now unable to eat.

Our February grocery spending has been more in line with our budget - to date we have spent $194. I now attempt to buy only fresh fruits and vegetables that are inexpensive or on sale. Asparagus was the only fresh food on sale this week that interested us. In addition, I purchased dried peas, apples, yellow squash and carrots – none of which were on sale.

Our menu for the week is as follows:

Today: Asparagus Frittata from Maria A. Bella’s book The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Acid Reflux Diet

Monday: Split Pea and Wild Rice Soup from Leslie L. Cooper’s Low-Fat Living Cookbook: 250 Easy, Great-Tasting Recipes

Tuesday: Leftovers

Wednesday: Apple-Sautéed Turkey Tenderloin also from Maria A. Bella’s book The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Acid Reflux Diet and a vegetable stir-fry.

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Coconut Panko Shrimp from Patricia Raymond’s Acid Reflux Diet and Cookbook For Dummies with stir-fried vegetables.

For the rest of the month I am going to explore using mushrooms as a replacement for meat in a recipe or two and eating more ancient grains such as barley, quinoa and falafel. My niece who is a vegetarian and a poor college student tells me barley is a good source of protein and is easy to digest. Also, I hope including grains in my salads will help make them more interesting.

How much do you spend on groceries each month?  Do you have any tips to eat healthy and not break the budget?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Healthy Reads – February 2015

So far this year I’ve managed to finish three books:

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy:
I’ve been reading this one since Nonfiction November. Considering, I spent so much time with the Bassets - this book chronicles three generations of the Basset family and their furniture empire in Basset, Virginia - I feel it deserves its own post. Also, I’m in the market for new furniture, so I’m thinking I’ll save my review until after my shopping experience.  

French Women Don't Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style & Attitude by Mireille Guiliano
This book was disappointing. I was looking for a dissection and analysis of French beauty and aging beliefs; instead I got one big ramble of Guiliano’s beauty, diet, anti-aging, and health routines.  Also, I find her writing voice to be irritating and preachy. I did enjoy the section where she provided a list of women who are aging with attitude. Just maybe, despite not particularly enjoying the book, Guiliano inspired me to explore aging with attitude in a future blog challenge.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
This was an interesting read.  It may not have helped me change my habits - yet, but the chapters titled, “How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do” and the “Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” were fascinating. Also, I can’t stop thinking about how Harrah’s Entertainment (Now Caesars Entertainment) preyed on Angie Bachmann’s gambling addiction. It was despicable. If you are interested in learning more about habits, how companies use your habits and (private information) to manipulate your spending or if you wish to change a habit I recommend this book.

My reading plans for February are to:

Participate in

Foodie February hosted by the travel the world in books challenge.

The foodie books I plan to read are:

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch--Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foodsby Jennifer Reese
This one comes recommended by Jennifer Ludwigsen. I’ve read 150 pages to date and as much as I disliked Mireille Guiliano’s writing voice I love Jennifer Reese’s. She is funny, relatable and makes me feel as if I’m sitting at her kitchen counter while she talks about cooking and recipes. Reese created an experiment for herself and her family after losing her job. She sets out to determine: When is homemade better? And cheaper? This book is about her findings. Though most of her recipes don’t qualify as healthy and I can’t use them for my live healthy on a budget challenge, I am learning about ingredients, cooking and what not to buy.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
I have an interest in olive oil and have attended olive oil tastings both in California and here in Wisconsin. After hearing Tom Mueller's interview on NPR I attempted to read this book - twice. I love reading a book that discloses a good scandal or fraud, but in the past haven't managed to get past the first 100 pages. The book is disorganized and repetitive. I keep waiting for Mueller to provide the meat of his story, but instead he takes me in circles.

When I noticed The Kitchen Reader Book Club has selected this book as their February book club pick, I decided to give it one more chance. I really want to learn the truth about the olive oil industry. I am starting on page 100. Wish me luck.

In other reading news:
I’ve been reading Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs for the Healthy Lifestyle Reading Challenge:
Jacobs has created a challenge for himself – to become the healthiest man in the world. This book fits in perfectly with my live healthy on a budget challenge. I enjoy Jacobs and his escapades despite finding him to be a bit of an oddball. He reminds me of Clark Howard, neither are afraid to embarrass themselves in the pursuit of their goals.

Have your read any of these books? What were your thoughts? Do you have any books to recommend for my Healthy Lifestyle Challenge or Foodie February challenge? What are you reading in February?